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A Review Of The Players School of Music, Part 3 (Jeff Berlin's School)

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Peter Weil, Mar 20, 2010.

  1. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
  2. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    In the 9 months since I last attended, I spent the time:

    - practicing through 6 complete keys from the Chord Studies for Electric Bass book, practicing every exercise in all 12 keys

    - practicing various pieces of Charlie Banacos material obtained from a bassist passing through my town (ii-V7-I's, triad pairs, etc)

    - practicing through material from the PSOM Chord Studies book (primary subordinate substitutes in all 12 keys, etc)

    - continuing the PSOM Ear Training course, bought from an ex-student, finishing off books 6 + 7 (there are 8 books in total). Book 7 moved into chromatic solfege and 16th note syncopated rhythm studies, which took me a lot longer to get through.

    - playing in 3 different jazz bands, 2 amateur and the third semi-pro - lots of reading needed. Cut a jazz demo with the semi-pro band, planning to look for gigs after I get back from school. Practicing the music associated with all of these.

    - working a busy day job.
  3. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    So, when I went back to school, my schedule was this:

    Ear Training 8 (combined class with Harmony) - 2x week
    Ear Training Analysis - 1x week
    Ensembles - 4x week
    Chart Reading - 1x week
    Private Lesson with Jeff Berlin - 2x week
    Introduction to Arranging - 1x week
    Introduction to Recording - 1x week

    Each class is an hour, or up to an hour. This schedule was extremely busy, and resulted in a lot of work. So, I dropped the Recording class after the 4th week, because it was eating up valuable time, and was not essentially what I had come to the school for.
  4. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    So going through each class in turn:

    Ear Training 8 (combined class with Harmony): We moved into continuing the sight-singing of chromatic solfege, sight-singing syncopated 16th and 32nd note lines in a variety of time signatures, and writing out chord progressions from listening to them. This was hard work and required constant practice between lessons. However it definitely got easier with time.

    In terms of the Harmony, I had in fact completed the school's harmony course from my own private study of their materials, so Matt Bokulic had me composing a new song (or two) each week. Which was pretty hard work; composition takes me a while. We worked around major/minor/etc Blues, Rhythm Changes (major + minor), Blues based on sus chords, pentatonic melodies, melodies and ways to invert/change them, etc. This was incredibly useful to me overall, helped me to understand melody better, and got me thinking about writing a lot more. Matt composes fairly constantly, and having someone who is experienced to read over and make suggestions on your compositions is invaluable.

    Ear Training Analysis: This was a class I'd never heard of before, but essentially involved detailed analysis of the form of a variety of different songs and styles. It required a lot of listening to music and noting of many features - time sig, key, form and function of each of different sections of a song, instrumentation, dynamics, etc. An apparently simple class which turned out to be deceptively difficult (especially when trying to pick apart songs with many different meters). Kind of hard to explain in some ways, but it really has helped me to listen to songs very closely and pick apart how they work. I'd call this class the flip-side to arranging.

    Ensembles: This was pretty much the same format as previously, with an hour daily of playing and improvising on a jazz tune with the superivision and commentary from a teacher (Matt Bokulic, Jeff Berlin, Joe Porter, or Jeremy Powell). The crux of the school, really. This year, the ensemble I was in made it through Jordu, Days of Wine and Roses, Seven Steps to Heaven, How My Heart Sings, and Tune Up over the 10 weeks.

    Chart Reading: At the stage I am at, this was essentially a reading class focused on written out jazz/funk/latin charts with 16th-note syncopations. Many of these were originals, some were big-band charts. Also expected to improvise/solo over these. Done with Matt Bokulic.

    Private Lessons with Jeff Berlin: These were really good. Jeff can listen to you and give you exactly what you need to deal with a problem. The material we worked through was pretty wide-ranging this semester. I transcribed some solos he played for me (simple ones, given my level), worked on some Pat Martino lines Jeff had previously transcribed, and worked on a ton of Charlie Banacos material, which is uniformly excellent. I can't really go into all the details, but we covered a whole heap of material in a range of different tonalities, which is really starting to open things up for me. Also, a great lesson on phrasing, which I need to work on.

    Jeff himself is a very easy to get along with, and he and I have a good friendship. Of course we've known each other for a few years now, and I always do the work he asks me to do...

    Introduction to Arranging: A great primer on arranging, covering all the main instruments, ranges, transpositions, pitfalls, etc. The final assignment here was to arrange a song of your choice for drums/bass/sax/trumpet/piano (+/- guitar). I chose Frevo, by Egberto Gismonti, which was considerably harder to arrange than I had anticipated. However, the teacher of this class is a well-known arranger (Brian O'Flaherty), and he was extremely helpful and patient with us. A great learning experience overall, and it was great to have the arrangement performed by the teachers at the ned of the semester. I would recommend Noteflight (www.noteflight.com) for getting basic musical ideas down (it's free), but I turned to Sibelius for the final engraving and layout.

    Introduction to Recording: Not too much for me to say here, except that I dropped it after a few weeks as my schedule was too hectic to accommodate it, and I felt that it was a bit too lecture-based for me (the school does not currently have a lot of hands-on recording PC's). I believe they are looking into developing this course further. Wait and see, I guess.

    In addition to the classes and work required, I generally spent 3 hours a day practicing, varying a bit with workload. The school recommends a minimum of two hours a day of practice to keep up.

    I also spent as much time as I could squeeze in playing charts with other students - generally flipping open the Real Book and going for it.
  5. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    So, that's the potted review of what I spent my time on at PSOM, and what you can expect if you attend.

    The last 2 and a bit years since I started coming have been a musical epiphany for me, and I have improved a lot. I have completed the harmony and ear training courses at the school and learned more about composition and arranging, and am playing well these days. I'd say the school pretty successfully achieves what it sets out to do, and if you're willing to put the legwork in, you will not fail to improve. It's plenty of work, though!

    As a final comment, I would say that if you intend to make a living playing your instrument, I would regard everythng that Jeff tells you as gospel. Everything I have learned from him has turned out to be true, ranging from his views on metronomes to those on how to practice correctly/'out of time' (although not 'out of sync'). I'm going to say this simply - Jeff's methods have worked extremely well for me over the last couple years, and I expect them to continue doing so. I might not have been convinced of everything he said when I first 'got serious' 2 and a bit years ago, but it has all proven itself many times over since then.

    If you want some further detail on the concepts Jeff espouses, have a look at his 'Jeff Berlin on Music Ed' threads, or my previous PSOM review thread (there's a post on it there).
  6. The Growler

    The Growler

    Jan 26, 2008
    Peter, these have been great to read. Thank you for the insight.

    Best of luck to you on your mudic ed journey.
  7. sleepytime


    Nov 10, 2007
    Chicago, IL
    Peter, do you ever come up for air?

    It sounds like you have made tremendous progress.

    ETA: Thanks for the heads up on noteflight.com
  8. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Thanks guys. It has been a lot of work, but worth it. I'm not done yet either...

    I always think to myself - 'how do I get my 4,000-10,000 hours'? Since various pieces of research have shown you need about 4,000 hours in a given field to be pro, and 10,000 to be world class, I'm always looking for that time to play/practice....
  9. sedgwick1489


    Dec 29, 2009
    Pete, just curious - what's your path forward since finishing up at the Player's School?
  10. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Heading back to the UK (Edinburgh) in a few weeks after a holiday, then back to the day job. Will be gigging with a soul band and one of the jazz bands; I'm getting emails about some vocal jazz gigs too. I'm probably going to ditch the other amateur jazz stuff; I won't have time for it. There's a local jazz jam on Monday nights which I couldn't always make before, but I should be able to hit it 1-2x a month now (my day job schedule has changed).

    In terms of further music education, I have a heap of stuff to practice and a long list of people I want to transcribe, as well as some further aspects of ear training I intend to pursue.

    If anyone wants some prep lessons before attending PSOM, I'm happy to teach, but my main aim is to play and gig a heck of a lot. ;)
  11. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Great post again Peter, i hope all works out for you as you have certainly put yourself in a great place with all the hard work.:)
  12. paul_wolfe


    Mar 8, 2009

    Great post. Great advert for Jeff too!

    Quick question - I'm really familiar with the 10,000 Hours to be world class meme (the originator of that meme - Dr Anders Ericsson actually uses the term virtuoso rather than world class) - but I've never head the 4000 hours to get to pro level before.

    Do you remember where you read/heard that?

  13. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    IIRC, it's from Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Pretty sure it's from the same study/source as the 10,000 hours meme.
  14. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    Age and natural talent also play a significant part in attaining "elite" or "world class" level.

    In Outliers, it was noted that(depending on natural ability) "elite" violinists had accumulated 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 20(2-3 hours a day since age 10, 1-2 hours/day since age 5) , the "good" players had accumulated about 8000 hours(2.19 hrs/day since age 10), and the average players had only practiced for about 4000 hours a day(1.1 hrs/day for 10 years)." Read a review of Outliers here.

    This was consistent for many, many different learned skills. Music, mathematics, computer programming, skill based sports such as basketball, soccer and ping pong.

    Basically, they found that natural talent helped get you into the talent pool that was divided up into performing a task at moderate, exceptional and incredible levels. The only difference between those levels was time spent practicing.

    The question is: how do you know what talent level you're at when you start? or When do you figure out that you're not going to be in the "world class" or "elite" group no matter how many hours you practice?

    It seems to me that after 10k hours, that's as good as you'll get no matter what talent level you're at. Best you enjoy the journey because you never know when the trail will end.
  15. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Of course the other factor is learning the correct information and techniques. If you get it wrong you are in effect learning to limit yourself and in-graining bad techniques and habits to be natural, the world is full of people who have put in the hours without the substance.:meh:
  16. Muyy


    Sep 4, 2009
    Orlando, Fl
    wow, I just read all three reviews. Sounds pretty great. I would really like to attend at least the mini session since I live in Florida and get some quick tips. The school sounds like musical heaven; people who really care about music and people who are actually interested in learning.
  17. funkybass


    Oct 19, 2006
    is the chords studies for electric bass book that you used the one from berkley press? what is the PSOM chord book?
  18. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Answering in sequential order:

    1. Yes.
    2. A book of chord tone studies, developed by the harmony teacher, Matt Bokulic. Not on sale to the general public at the moment, unfortunately; you have to attend the school to get it. I keep telling them to publish some of their materials.
  19. CDweller


    Oct 24, 2009
    Clearwater, FL
    Peter- fantastic review. You have excellent writing skills. I am in the one week intensive, as you know, and it's wonderful. Jeff is the real deal, and really easy to work with. Congratulations on your musical accomplishments. One thing I can say is that one has to work at it.
  20. Peter Weil

    Peter Weil Seeker of The New Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2000
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Enjoy it! It'll be a full-on week. I have found it all to be hard work (enjoyable though!), but it has certainly helped me a lot. I'm still working towards where I want to be, but it seems to be getting closer...
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    Primary TB Assistant

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